This week is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Awareness Week. OCD Week is an international effort to raise awareness and understanding about obsessive compulsive disorder and related disorders, with the goal of helping more people get access to effective treatment. An estimated 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 200 children in the United States likely have some form of OCD.
When most people think of OCD, they think of people who wash their hands compulsively or repetitive counting. But it’s so much more. OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety and can be debilitating. Only a trained mental health therapist can diagnose OCD. Because of the stigma involved with mental illness, many cases go undiagnosed and untreated.
OCD symptoms are divided into two categories: obsessive symptoms and compulsive symptoms. OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted ideas, thoughts, images or impulses. The obsessions typically have themes to them, such as a fear of dirt or fear of harming others. Common obsessive symptoms are:
- Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or touching objects that others have touched
- Thoughts that you have hurt someone in a traffic accident
- Worries that you left the stove on, left your door unlocked or left your coffee pot on
- Intense stress when your home isn’t orderly or objects are not facing the right way
- Fear that something bad will happen if you throw anything away
OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors that you feel compelled to perform or engage in. The behaviors are meant to prevent anxiety related to the obsessions. For example, you may feel that you are unable to leave your home unless you check the stove twice and lock the door three times. Common compulsive symptoms are:
- Repeatedly washing your hands
- Checking your doors repeatedly to make sure they’re locked
- Counting in certain patterns
- Arranging your shelves, books and DVDs in perfect order and becoming upset when they are moved
- Spending excessive time cleaning your home
Symptoms usually begin gradually and may vary in severity throughout your life. While OCD is a lifelong illness, it is treatable. Early diagnosis is the key to living a healthy, normal life, so it is advised to pay careful attention to children who exhibit symptoms. Children’s symptoms are similar to those in adults, noticeable when they get extremely upset over any interruption to their routine. They may also have problems at school and have low self-esteem because they feel different or weird. A therapist with experience in child psychiatry can diagnose and treat their OCD at a young age and help them learn to cope.
After receiving an OCD diagnosis, proper assessment and treatment can begin. Never be embarrassed about something like OCD. It’s very common and help is possible. If you are concerned about your own symptoms or the compulsive behaviors of your child, call a Orange County psychiatrist and set up a consultation.